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We all know that stress is bad for us. Given the current global situation, it is essential that we reduce our stress and improve our wellbeing. Tim France tells us how. The current crisis is stressful. We’re worried about ourselves and the people we love getting sick. We’re worried about the economic impact. We’re worried about practical issues, like how to work from home effectively or whether we will have enough milk, bread… or toilet roll. The trouble is, stress is bad for us. Amongst other things, sustained stress compromises our immune systems. So, it’s not just preferable to be able to reduce stress, it’s essential if we are going to fight off a virus. Here are some simple things we can do to reduce stress and improve wellbeing: Limit negative intake Watching endless news about the virus with emotive graphics, graphs and images feeds our fear. It’s important to limit our exposure to all this negativity to maybe just once or twice a day (just not the first thing or last thing!), and to balance negative stories with positive ones. Follow @goodnews_movement on Instagram for some inspirational stories. Get organised Organising your time and work space, planning ahead and scheduling calls and workload removes stress and makes the working day more manageable and enjoyable. Taking time to plan at the beginning of the day or week is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress down the line.  Create new routines Whether working from home or working with social distancing, we all have to find new ways to live and work. We find routine reassuring and uncertainty stressful. It’s important to create new routines quickly. Look for the positives Human beings always manage to find gold in the dirt. Whether war time or natural disaster, history is full of examples of people creating good things from bad situations. So, whether it’s forging stronger bonds with colleagues, spending more time with family, or becoming a video conferencing ninja, focus on and celebrate the positives that are emerging from this crisis. Stay away from conflict In stressful times, it’s easy for conflicts to arise. If you feel your buttons being pushed, take time to think and cool down before responding. Deal with the facts, not emotions, and work to see the other perspective. Stress breeds conflict and conflict creates more stress. It pays to break that cycle. Take time for yourself “You can’t fill a cup from an empty jug” the saying goes. Much is going to be asked of us all, both personally and professionally over the coming weeks and months, but we can’t keep giving without taking time to refill. Listen carefully to your own needs: do you need to rest? Eat? Exercise? Sleep? Drink water? Simply stare out of the window? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it. Make sure you meet your own needs so that you can continue to meet the needs of others. There may be some very challenging times ahead, but by following these simple suggestions, we can reduce stress and boost our immune systems. Tim France is the CEO of Transformative Mind & Body Wellbeing Centre.

Mar 20, 2020
Careers

Working from home has become necessary for many people due to COVID-19. But how can you manage when it comes to working remotely? Eric Fitzpatrick gives us nine tips on how to successfully work remotely without going stir-crazy or losing productivity. The Coronavirus is forcing organisations and workforces to reconsider their current work practices. Non-essential travel has been cancelled, events are being postponed or moved to online platforms and companies and organisations have their staff work remotely from home.   At first glance, working from home can be appealing, but there is a downside to it as well. As someone who has worked from home for more than ten years, the following are worth noting when it comes to remote working.  1. Discipline  The key to working at home is discipline. Be clear about what time you will start and finish. Agree these times with your organisation. You might have more flexibility with your hours than you would in your office but it’s important to be clear about your hours. Build in the times and duration of your breaks. Know that you’ll take a break at 11am for 15 minutes. If you’re not disciplined, 15 minutes could easily become 30 minutes or longer.  2. Get dressed If how you dress is too casual, how you work might be, too. Wear work clothes. Working from home might mean dressing as you would for casual Friday in the office, but dressing for work gets you in the frame of mind for work.  3. Designate a workspace  If you have a home office where you can close the door behind you at the end of the day, great. If not, work from a space where you must be clear at the end of the work day, such as the family dining table. By removing access to the workspace, you remove the temptation to go back to work for a couple of hours in the evening.  4. Work in a room that is bright and airy Working in a dark office with no natural light can reduce productivity and enjoyment.  Create a tidy workspace and an environment that is conducive to effective working. Have a place for everything and place only that which you will need in that workspace. 5. Ditch your mobile Be without your mobile for as much as possible, if not needed for work. Leave it in another room if you’re working on a project from which you don’t want to be interrupted. You can lose up to an hour a day picking up your phone to check social media platforms. Remove the temptation.    6. Skip the chores During your working day, don’t put on a wash, do the weekly shopping, vacuum, change the bed covers, paint the kitchen or replace that lock. You’re being paid to work, not to get ahead of the housework.   7. Keep healthy  If you walk or cycle to work, working from home takes away the opportunity to get that exercise. Can you make time elsewhere to get in some activity? Your kitchen will probably be closer to your workspace that the office canteen is to your office desk. It can be very tempting to take 10 seconds to walk to the kitchen to grab a snack. Working from home, you might find yourself doing less exercise and eating more – a bad combination. Try to manage your activity levels and snack time. 8. Don’t go stir-crazy  Working from home can take a bit of getting used to. You go from working in a busy, noisy office to working in quiet isolation. At first, it seems great, then slowly the walls start to close in. The silence becomes too loud and you find you need people to interact with. Don’t go more than two days without speaking to colleagues or clients. Design your calendar to ensure you have regular contact with the outside world.  9. Turn on the radio Music can be a positive contribution to an effective workspace at home. Played in the background, it can replace the noise of the office and remove some of the quiet isolation.  Working from home can increase productivity, improve your quality of life and may become necessary for many people over the coming weeks or months. Knowing how to manage it can make it as successful as possible.   Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training.  

Mar 20, 2020
Careers

Working remotely can be a struggle, but the best way to manage it is to figure out what works best for you to be productive. Neil Kelders explains.  You are not alone. We are all facing the same struggles. We need to manage these struggles by taking action. Find what the best ingredients are for you to be productive during an uncertain and stressful time.  Communicate  Ask yourself: what is going to stress me out while working at home? Write out your list and get your partner and kids to do the same and discuss. Address the issues and conflicts that come up and plan to overcome those obstacles.  Calm the storm When you wake up, spend a few minutes sitting with yourself. I meditate but if this isn’t for you, just sit and let your thoughts come, recognise them and let them go, focus on your breathing and the calm around you. Schedule your day around your energy levels  To ensure you don’t stress, you need to work with your body. Some of us are ‘early birds’ so our energy peaks in the morning. Others are ‘night owls’ who achieve more and focus better in the evening. Which are you?  If you’re an early bird, the morning is best for analytical work (figuring problems and planning). As an early bird, energy levels are lower in the late afternoon and evening so use that time for creativity and coming up with new ideas. Night owls work the opposite. Meetings and calls are best scheduled for when you know you’ll have low energy because connecting with people raises energy levels. Use distractions to your advantage Our brain craves novelty. When something unexpected happens (like our phones buzzing, for example) it immediately captures our attention, right? Try to build productivity-enhancing distractions into your day, such as making your: 1. To-do list more visible. Put your to-do list on a brightly coloured pad, so that your eyes are regularly drawn to it throughout the day. When you look away from your monitor, you’ll see the pad and your eyes are immediately drawn to your next goal. 2. Alarm as your assistant. Do you lose yourself in something you love doing and need to be reminded to stop and start doing another task? Your alarm is now your reminder to stay on track. Set end times for your activities. I set my timer for 45-minute sessions. I then take a break, reset the timer and go again for 45 minutes. Try it with your kids, build their structure into yours and take breaks together. Sleep better Better sleep does not start at bedtime. It starts with the choices you make during the day.  Improve sleep by:  replacing your afternoon coffee with a post-lunch walk with family (if not isolating); or using your garden to exercise after work. From a sleep perspective, the ideal time for exercising is five to six hours before bed.  Over the coming days (weeks? months?) you will head a lot of advice, but you need to explore what works for you. We all differ, so don’t become frustrated when advice is not working. Remember to adjust to what will work for you. Consistency is key. This is our reality for now, so do things today that make more time tomorrow. Neil Kelders is a coach and advocate for mental wellness and physical fitness. To receive a free eBook on working from home, email Neil.  

Mar 20, 2020
News

Businesses will face unexpected and unprecedented challenges in the months ahead. Conor Devine explains what some can do to stay afloat. You would be forgiven, after watching or listening to the news over the last couple of weeks, for thinking that we are fast approaching the end of the world. Yes, I am referring to the outbreak of COVID-19, which, and as a direct result of the rapid spread of the disease, has led to the lockdown of 26 countries (and rising), and some 190 million people under quarantine. There is no doubt that this virus and its impact across the board is unprecedented. It has, however, illuminated the fact that we are living in a connected world that operates in real-time. For example, doctors and nurses on the front line in places like China, Italy and the US are live-tweeting updates from intensive care units. News updates state the actual numbers of those infected. At the same time, messages from friends and communities alert us to lockdowns of schools and public spaces, creating volatile reactions in markets around the world. It’s an incredible turn of events and one that few saw coming. Here are some of the economic tremors that rocked the world in the last week: US stock markets had their worst day in 30 years, falling 10%. In Europe, equity lost 10% of its value. In London, the FTSE 100 fell 11%. All of this has increased concern regarding a global recession and a severe credit crunch. However, there are a few things business owners can do in the weeks ahead to ensure that they are prepared for an immediate downturn in turnover, which now looks unavoidable. So, what can business owners do today? And what should they look at and consider if, as some maintain, turnover could drop by more than 50% for some businesses immediately? Here are some measures business owners could consider in light of recent events: Business owners and managers to take a pay cut for the next six months. All remaining staff to take a pay cut for the next six months. Cut staffing levels to reduce costs immediately. Engage with landlords and propose a reduction in rent over the next three months, to be reviewed quarterly. Put business investment on hold and review quarterly. Engage with local authorities and propose that you hold back your business rates. Engage with business groups and government representatives to insist on a VAT holiday for the next six months. On a personal level, I firmly believe that it is more important to start by looking after ourselves and those closest to us. We can fix our financial challenges with the right level of expertise and advice in due course. COVID-19 will pass, and things will return to some form of normality in the next six to 12 months. But it’s what you do today, and in the weeks ahead, that will have a real impact on you and your business’s ability to navigate the tough terrain that faces us all. Conor Devine MRICS is founding partner of Clearpath Finance.

Mar 13, 2020
News

The Irish economy is facing difficult tests, but the key challenge may not come from the shocks we have to endure but from the urgent need to forge policies that deliver greater domestic stability, says Austin Hughes. Recently, a possible ‘crash out’ Brexit presented a clear and present danger to the Irish economy. Now, the focus is almost entirely and understandably on COVID-19, a months-old name for a major risk that wasn’t on most people’s radar a mere two months ago. Once we get through this crisis, we will return to more 'normal' worries like trade wars and mooted changes to global tax regimes that threaten further near-term economic storms. It’s important to remember, though, that a threatening external backdrop didn’t derail the Irish economy in 2019. Instead, GDP growth of 5.5% and an extra 65,000 at work might suggest boom conditions.  Left behind Sustained and substantial improvements in key measures of economic performance haven’t fuelled any sense of ‘feel good’ among Irish consumers. Instead, the trend in consumer sentiment has weakened over the past couple of years. A recent KBC Bank study suggested widely-felt concerns are weighing on subjective measures of wellbeing. In part, a problematic contrast between ‘macro’ strength and ‘micro’ strains simply reflects the fact that there are more people working and living in Ireland. Total household disposable income is now about 15% above the previous early-2008 peak but, adjusted for an increased number of households, it transpires that the average household has 2% less disposable income than in 2008. A growing population and workforce are also putting massive strains on Ireland’s infrastructure, to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in Europe. Whereas it had been suggested that Ireland would be knocking down rather than building homes for decades, ‘rightsizing’ construction for a strong recovery has proven beyond markets, policymakers or planners. The consequences, whether measured in terms of affordability, long commutes, homelessness or other forms of exclusion, may not show up in conventional measures such as GDP but they do figure forcefully in various barometers of the public mood. More generally, though, an Irish recovery is seeing substantial differences in the scale and spread of improvement between sectors, places and individuals. In turn, this has prompted widespread feelings of being left behind.     Building a stable framework The Irish economy faces major challenges from an increasingly unpredictable global economy, but as is the case with the current health crisis, the key test lies in how we respond. We need a greater test to build a new domestic framework that is seen to fairly share gains and pains along a likely bumpy economic road while delivering the key policy outcomes that a healthy society needs. Fiscal policy will play the primary role in this regard and must change radically if it is to be fit for purpose. We must move from an unproductive preoccupation with decimal points in Government balances to a focus on delivering plausible policy outcomes in areas such as housing and healthcare. Equally, for fiscal policy to be sustainable, we must avoid the view that instant solutions require no more than political will and an open chequebook. In terms of economic progress, as well as current challenges, the old adage 'ní neart go cur le chéile' holds true. Building a coherent framework that enhances economic stability and social inclusion may be the major test facing Ireland’s policymakers and broader population in coming years. Austin Hughes is the Chief Economist for KBC Bank Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020
News

COVID-19 is a serious concern for everyone. How can businesses in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cope with the inevitable disruption this virus will bring? Businesses in Northern Ireland have had to contend with many difficult situations over the years. Each time they have demonstrated their resilience and determination by overcoming these challenges and ‘getting on with it’. This resilience and determination will be a key factor in the local business community’s response to the threat of COVID-19. The virus has already had a serious impact on other countries, and it is inevitable that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will also be impacted materially.  COVID-19 is a serious concern for us all as individuals, for our families, and for the wider community. As well as guidance on the appropriate precautions we should all be taking, the UK Government has given assurances that resources are being applied to ensure that appropriate medical treatment will be available for those who succumb to the virus. This is a welcome and necessary statement and should provide a degree of comfort. While businesses are proactively engaging in the recommended practices to minimise its spread, it is likely that there will be some form of business disruption in the coming weeks. Most businesses already have contingency plans for such scenarios and through the implementation of these, the impact on business continuity can be reduced. Planning, anticipation and level-headed leadership is critical to the success of this process and it is essential that businesses are proactive and ensure they have practical and deliverable contingency plans in place. If, as in other countries, more extensive restrictions are imposed, the impact on businesses will inevitably worsen. Any protracted periods of restricted movement will ultimately lead to a dramatic impact on output and productivity. The priority is to address the medical issue and to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed as quickly as possible, but the knock-on impact on businesses cannot be ignored. The Government has acknowledged the concerns of the business community and has introduced special provisions in last week’s Budget, which will go some way to meet the inevitable cash-flow pressures that will arise.  Unfortunately, all business sectors have the potential to be impacted by the current situation. Staff absences, cash flow and supply chain disruption are all factors that will need to be considered. Northern Ireland has a strong and growing tourism, leisure and hospitality sector. The rates relief announced in the Budget will help this sector, so long as the NI Executive introduces these measures locally, as currently they only extend to England. This sector looks certain to be hit further as we move to the delay phase. These measures could be critical in helping vulnerable businesses to survive. Businesses will need to engage with all stakeholders, including banks and financial institutions, and will need to move to protect their supply chains. Stakeholders within the business community will have to work together to overcome this challenge. Leaders need to adopt a people first approach as businesses cannot survive or re-emerge without their workforce. In the meantime, we all have an obligation and duty to adhere to the Government’s recommendations and, by doing so, hopefully bring a speedy conclusion to the outbreak. Brian Murphy is Managing Partner at BDO Northern Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020